Seen as an convict under law, treated as a God by his millions of followers, courted by politicians and political parties, protected by the police with Z-plus security cover and targeted by Sikh radicals, Dera Sacha Sauda sect chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, is as controversial as he is colourful.
The sect chief, who turned 50 on the same day when the country marked 70 years of Independence, was convicted of rape by a CBI court in Panchkula on Friday, leading to some violence by his supporters. He has two shades to his personality as the head of the cash-rich Dera Sacha Sauda (DSS) sect -- one of leader of social causes and another for controversies. He led an enigmatic life of ultra-luxury and pomp in public appearances
The sect has under its belt several Guinness World Records, including largest blood donation camps in 2003, 2004 and 2010; has rehabilitated prostitutes, transgenders, alcoholics and drug addicts; and carried out disaster relief -- from the December 2004 Tsumani and Gujarat earthquake to flash floods in Uttarakhand.
The social activities of the sect -- from blood donation camps to running educational institutions and carrying out social welfare measures, have made it popular among millions of its followers, mostly from the poorers sections of the oppressed castes in society.
The DSS claims that it has over 7 crore followers across the country and abroad. A vast majority of these are in Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan.
The sect chief enjoys Z-plus security cover from the Haryana government, despite having been charged by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on two counts of murder conspiracy and one count of rape and sexual exploitation of a ''sadhvi'' (female disciple).
Addressed as ''Saint Dr Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Ji Insan'' on the DSS official website, the sect chief has been involved in a major controversy with the Sikh community since April 2007 after he attired himself on the lines of 10th Sikh guru, Gobind Singh, during a ceremony. His action led to large scale violence in Punjab, Haryana, Jammu and other places.
Given the threat to his life, especially from Sikh radicals, Singh moves around in a fleet of bulletproof Land Cruisers and Mercedes SUVs and other luxury vehicles, and flies in private helicopters and aircraft.
He has survived assassination attempts in the past.
Wherever he goes, his followers, in thousands, reach that place much before him. At times, this brings normal life in cities and towns to a halt.
In the last few years, the sect chief has taken a fancy for films, He has acted in, directed, written and produced three films, figuring as the hero in them. All films had multi-crore budgets and released in 4,000-plus screens across the country.
He has sung songs in these films and has released albums like "Highway Love Charger" -- unleashing his ''rockstar'' avatar. His other music albums include "Network Tere Love Da", "Thank U for That" and "Insan -- one who lives for others".
The sect claims that millions of his music CDs have been sold, most of them being lapped up by his followers. His songs and music encourage the youth and other people to keep away from evils like drugs, prostitution and alcohol.
The sect chief, who describes his music as of a "religious genre" and "gospel", has performed at jam-packed rock shows in New Delhi''s Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium and the Ramlila Maidan. He has done over 100 such shows so far.
The titles of his songs are equally interesting -- "Atom Bomb", "Kya Khoob" and "Charge Me".
The Dera chief is an accused in the murder of sect follower and his former manager, Ranjit Singh, in July 2002. Singh was murdered by sect activists, allegedly at the behest of the sect chief "as he knew too much about activities inside the sect headquarters".
He is also an accused in the murder of Sirsa-based journalist, Ram Chandra Chhatrapati, in October 2002 after the latter wrote about shady activities inside the sect headquarters near Sirsa, around 260 km from here.
The sect chief was convicted of rape and sexual exploitation of a former female follower, 15 years after the allegations were made in 2002.
The CBI, which is probing all three charges against him, has filed its charge-sheet against the sect chief and others in the other two cases.
The sect management has been refuting all the charges so far.
The sect and its chief wields political clout among its followers in Punjab and Haryana and is courted by political parties and leaders. The sect threw its weight behind the BJP in the 2014 elections in Haryana. Earlier it had sided with the Congress and the Shiromani Akali Dal in Punjab.
The sect was founded in 1948 by Shah Mastana, who came from Baluchistan (now in Pakistan). He was succeeded by Shah Satnam Singh and Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh succeeded him.
(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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